Jesse Brauner

A stylized image of a lyre, a stringed musical instrument strongly associated with several characters and stories in Greek mythology.

According to the tales, the first lyre was constructed essentially as a peace offering. Soon after he was born, Hermes, in his capacity as the trickster good, pulled a prank on his half-brother Apollo by stealing his herd of cattle. To placate Apollo’s anger, Hermes crafted a stringed instrument using a tortoiseshell as a base and presented it to his brother in hopes of forgiveness (which he received). Apollo, in his capacity as the patron of musicians, has been strongly associated with the lyre ever since and is typically portrayed as carrying one.

Other characters from Greek mythology were also associated with the lyre: Orpheus, the minstrel famous for his sweet singing voice and vivid storytelling skills, was one of them, and even the hero Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) was taught the lyre as part of his early education. Aside from mythological stories, the Greeks themselves often used lyres as part of the entertainment at feasts and other celebratory events.